One of the most important pieces of any argument is making sure that you have solid evidence to back up your claims. In the current debate swirling about the merits of Young Adult (YA) fiction (see the original negative article here and one response I really like), those in support of its quality have a winner in their arsenal with The Fault in Our Stars.
The book written by John Green, and recent film directed by Josh Boone, looks at both the value and consequences of hope. A feeling everyone from teenagers to the elderly can relate to. The main characters, Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus (Ansel Elgort), meet in a cancer support group for teenagers, though Hazel is in a worse holding pattern – terminal thyroid cancer that has actually responded to a experimental trial – than Gus, who is remission after losing his leg to bone cancer. Gus’ attitude toward survival is infectious, and pulls Hazel into his optimistic orbit. They bond over loving the same book, An Imperial Affliction, about a young girl dying of cancer. The abrupt ending of the novel makes our young readers crazed to find out what happens next.
This leads Hazel and Gus on a quest to find the author (Willem Dafoe) in hopes of finding the answer. Throughout this crazy journey, we see Hazel get sicker, and then thankfully get better, but are reminded that for people with chronic illness, another setback is always a breath away. For the people who love them, Hazel’s parents and Gus, hoping that a good day will be the first of many can make the setbacks even more heartbreaking.
The Fault in Our Stars is as heartbreaking as you’d expect. But knowing what’s coming doesn’t diminish the experience of watching people fall in love and accept their fate. Woodley and Elgort are great. Hazel is hesitant and cautious about even making a friend, given her status as a “grenade” waiting to explode and hurt all the people around her. But Gus has decided to laugh at death by “smoking” an unlit cigarette as a metaphor. Eventually they find a middle ground to surviving – experiencing their pain, but not letting it define them or hold them back.
I really loved this book, and the movie brings the characters and feelings to life in a way that is different, but doesn’t disappoint. A lot of their relationship evolves through texts and wise cracks. A lesser film might have made us stare at phone screens, but The Fault in Our Stars creates little hand drawn bubbles next to our character’s head – so we get to see their reaction to the text as we read it. A small point, but one that I felt gave strength to the film, and helped it rise above being just a translation from the book.
You will cry, if you don’t, you’re dead inside. And I can understand not wanting to put yourself through that experience, but if you’re someone interested in the full spectrum of human emotion, this is a great film for you. It’s funny, particularly Gus’ happy outlook on a rough life, and tragic, but wonderfully done. Their fault lies not within themselves (as Brutus told Ceasar), but within their stars.